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‘Almost, Maine’ more than almost compelling

By David Begelman, NewsTimes


You couldn’t ask for a more delightful, well acted and handsomely staged production of a show than the current offering at New Milford’s TheatreWorks. It’s playwright John Cariani’s lovable confection, “Almost, Maine.”

The play premiered at the Portland Stage Company in 2004, and hit its off-Broadway venue at the Daryl Roth Theatre in 2005. The recipient of many honors, it went on to get produced all over the world, from South Korea to the United Arab Emirates. Obviously, it strikes a universally responsive chord in audiences.

The show is about what happens when love jiggles up people who are ordinarily more plain than fancy. It is also a series of separate vignettes between two characters whose relationship culminates in a “magical moment,” a “heartbeat” under the northern lights in a small mythical town in Maine. In the comedy, Cariani pictures the remote stretches of the wintry landscape of his home state as capable of generating sudden explosions of tender emotions. “Almost, Maine” has such promptings virtually jolt characters out of prefigured modes in sudden and awkward, but humorous ways.

The number of performers in the show is up for grabs. It can range anywhere from four to nineteen, since actors take on multiple roles. Directors Glenn R. Couture and Robin Frome judiciously settled on eight: four men (Christopher Smith, Michael Ritts, Michael Wright, David Martin and four women (Kelly McMurray, Robyn Maitland, Adrienne Marra Brown, Stacy-Lee Erickson). The choice was apt; it allowed each of the actors to fashion at least two characterizations, without overstretching the theatrical demand on any of them.

The script has some unusual features. Playwright Cariani insisted on overlapping dialogue, as well as the demand that portrayals steer away from over-sentimentalizing the action. The TheatreWorks production more than lives up to his wishes. And performers bring a reality to their characterizations that enhance believability.

In one vignette, “Her Heart,” Glory (Maitland) arrives in town to witness the northern lights of the sky because they “are the torches that the recently departed carry with them so they can find their way to heaven.” Glory not only radiates a dreaminess, she carries pieces of her broken heart in a bag, prompting lonely East (Ritts) to plant a sudden, and unwelcome kiss on her mouth.

The separate vignettes in “Almost, Maine” have a fantasy-like aspect a notch below those palpitating in comedies by Arthur L. Kopit, Paul Zindel, and David Lindsay-Abare. The combination of zany, but not altogether unwelcome, twists in otherwise ordinary circumstances is the charm of the comedy—and the New Milford production.

Glenn R. Couture’s set design was a beautifully appointed wintry one, while Scott Wyshynski’s lighting was up to its customary professional standards. There was not a trace of inconsistency in the action of the vignettes, although two separate directors were responsible for staging the show. Directors, actors, and backstage crew should take a well-deserved accolade for this production. Audiences think so, if standing ovations are any proof of the pudding.

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